Unaccompanied Children Overwhelm Southwestern Border Facilities

The Biden Administration is struggling to keep up  with a surge of young migrants, whose numbers increase day by day, outstripping the staff and facilities needed to process and house them.   More than 20,000 children are currently in government custody; and by June there could be 35,000 needing care, a prospect that a former official with Health and Human Services described as “terrifying.”

When they first cross the border, young migrants – both teenagers and children – are taken to harsh detention facilities run by the border patrol.  They are supposed to stay for no more than three days but often stay for much longer.  After that they’re moved to 150 shelters and group homes run by Health and Human Services, where they’re supposed to get education, recreation, and medical and psychological care while officials vet family members, friends, and potential foster families who can take them in.  But here again the young migrants can face long waits.

Under pressure from this latest surge in child migrants and criticism from Republicans and others, the Biden administration is rushing to erect facilities and recruit people to staff them. So far officials have opened 12 emergency shelters in vacant spaces like convention centers and military bases.

They have also been working to cut back the time it takes to conduct background checks on relatives, friends, and foster families willing to take the children in.  Of 2000 minors released to sponsors since early April, about half were reunited with parents or legal guardians after an average of 23 days; those with more distant relatives or waiting foster families had to wait nearly two months.  Yet the vetting process is vital to security and  safety of the children.

The Biden Administration has recently made progress, bringing the number of minors in border detention centers down by 1000 from high of 5000 in March.  But to keep up with the surge that will continue to grow into the summer, the health department says that by June it will need to release more than 800 minors a day rather than the 300 they are releasing now.